Carry On Doctor: Robin Cook’s Terminal (1996)

Matty checks out a solid made-for-TV medical thriller with a waggish bedside manner.

“Medical stories are hot right now thanks to the success of E.R. and Chicago Hope, and it’s a good thing because I was getting tired of lawyers and cops getting all the attention!” quipped Robin Cook in the pages of The Tampa Tribune, ahead of his possessory-titled TERMINAL’s premiere on NBC [1].

The sixth of the former doctor turned bestselling novelist’s works nudged into production following big screen adaptations of Coma (1978) and Sphinx (1981); CBS’ small screen spin on Harmful Intent (1993); and NBC’s preceding takes on Mortal Fear (1994) and the author’s 1987 book, Outbreak (which became the William Devane-starring Virus (1995)), this entertaining version of Cook’s tale moves with an obvious spring in its step. Boisterously directed by Larry Elikann and lensed by the TVM veteran’s go-to cinematographer Eric Van Haren Noman, every dynamic, colour-driven shot consists of either dizzying Steadicam work, creeping low angles, or explosive, splash panel close-ups. It’s a pleasing and playful tableau; one defined by an energy and silliness that encourages you to simply strap in and enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is.

While far too dependent on info-dumps and never quite able to shake its overly flowery literary trappings (well, maybe more ‘airport reading’ trappings), Nancy Isaak’s punchy script sports a nice line in pantomime villainy and a good sense of escalating paranoia. Featuring Roy Thinnes, Richard Riehle, a scary and formidable Jenny O’Hara, and the always welcome Michael Ironside among its ensemble — the latter returning to  hospital horror for the first time since Visiting Hours (1980) — each crackpot character seems to be involved in the sinister goings on at the Forbes infirmary, leaving us as perturbed as the film’s heroes: new doc in town Dr. Sean O’Grady (Doug Savant, post Melrose Place, pre Desperate Housewives) and his nurse ex-girlfriend, Janet Reardon (the sassy and smouldering Nia Peeples). Amid the mystery — which involves brain cancer, rich patients, underfunding, unethical quacks, and murder — the two make for an engaging pair: likable, grounded by sparkling chemistry, and capable of spitting their dialogue with a snappiness akin to that of a classic screwball comedy.

“The most significant element that I was concerned about was the depiction of the relationship between my character and Nia’s,” Savant told The Albuquerque Journal in 1996. “You really need to bond them and root for them.” [2]     

Filmed in several working hospitals in and around Phoenix, Arizona during December 1995, Terminal debuted on NBC at 8PM on Monday 12th February 1996, and tardily hit U.S. video and DVD via Artisan in late 2002.

USA ● 1996 ● Thriller, TVM ● 85mins

Doug Savant, Nia Peeples, Michael Ironside ● Dir. Larry Elikann Wri. Nancy Isaak, based upon the novel by Robin Cook 

[1] Author of Thrillers Operates from Medical Background, The Tampa Tribune, 11th February 1996
[2] Melrose Co-Star into Terminal by Jay Bobbin, The Albuquerque Journal, 10th February 1996

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